The Lady Patriots are favored to win the Three Rivers Conference softball title, but expect strong challenges from Unicoi County and Elizabethton.
Happy Valley and Johnson County are also expected to be solid while Sullivan South and Sullivan Central figure into the mix as well.
Three Rivers Conference predictions
1. Sullivan East
2. Unicoi County
4. Johnson County
5. Happy Valley
6. Sullivan South
7. Sullivan Central
Lady Patriots’ head coach Michael Forrester said he will use a three-player rotation in the circle this year.
“We have three pitchers we plan to use interchangeably,” said Forrester. “They are all very capable of winning big games for us.”
Seniors Katelyne Loudy and Kylee Wolfe will be joined by Jillian Shackelford in the rotation.
At the plate, Forrester should have a tough lineup. Included in the mix is Wolfe (3b, Sr.), who hit .452 with nine homers and 46 RBIs last year. Also solid are Chelsea Sams (c, Sr., 9 HR, 39 RBIs), Loudy and Cayden Bawgus (1b, So.).
“We have very high hopes,” said Forrester. “We return the nucleus of our team that was one run away from our first regional tournament in Class AA. The first goal is to win the Three Rivers Conference. The second goal is to get over the hump and make the regional tournament. Ultimately, our hope is to play in the state tournament.”
Forrester said East has incredible depth.
“All nine players in the lineup are dangerous,” he said. “And we have players on the bench who can step in if someone is slumping.”
The Blue Devils return a couple of key players from last year, and will lean on them again this year.
Pitcher Allee Griffith and catcher Halie Hawkins are a pair of senior standouts. Griffith has signed to play softball at Milligan while Hawkins has also signed with Buffaloes for track.
“This is the third year Haley has started,” said head coach Grady Lingerfelt. “She’s probably the best athlete we have. Allee wound up pitching a lot of key games at the end of last year, and got us through some games.”
Hawkins, a catcher, is one of the team’s top hitters along with Cassie Salvage (2b, Sr.), Chloe Powers (lf, Sr.) and Carly Kinsler (1b, Sr.).
Head coach Ken Hardin said catcher Haley Fair will be an integral part of the team.
“She will lead the team from behind the plate,” Hardin said. “She will have to work the pitchers and be a coach on the field.”
In the circle will be senior Hannah Edwards, freshman Madisun Pritchard, and junior Marley Wagner.
At the plate, the Lady Cyclones expect production from Fair, senior outfielder Kira Dillard, and senior Autumn Hensley.
“We hope to continue to be competitive against everyone we play,” said Hardin.
New head coach Greg Reece wants to get the building blocks in place for the Lady Longhorns.
“First we want to change the culture, the mindset and how we work with our feeder program,” said Reece. “Secondly we want to seek improvement on a daily basis. If we do these things we can begin consistently winning the games we should win, and in time, compete with the better programs.”
Johnson County will go to battle with junior Hannah Brooks as its top pitcher. Brooks will also be one of the top hitters and play third base when she’s not pitching. She totaled 17 home runs in her first two seasons and was intentionally walked over 30 times last year.
Other top hitters are Emily Miller (c, So.) and junior first baseman Natalie Winters. Other key players include seniors Bella Miller (lf) and Lindsey Wills (2b).
“They have been outstanding leaders during this transition,” Reece said.
The Lady Warriors face the challenge of playing away from home for at least the month of March as their field heals from the recent flooding.
But head coach Cody Hyder remains optimistic.
“We just want to continue to get better as the season progresses,” he said.
Leading the way in the circle is right-handed sophomore Abby Holt.
At the plate, the Lady Warriors will try to get things started with Kadie Havner (3b, Sr.), Macy Puckett (1b, Sr.) and sophomore shortstop Olivia Absher.
It would be hard to pick a top pitcher, said head coach Chris Sturgill.
“I have two juniors who are equally good and important,” said Sturgill.
The right-handers are Nicole Troutman and Tara Shivley.
When South is batting, Laura Dade (ss, Sr.), junior third baseman Allison Chapman, and Troutman lead the way.
Also, leadoff hitter Makkenzie Compton (cf, Jr.) should help.
“Her work ethic, the way she carries herself, and way she treats her teammates, makes her a great leader,” said Sturgill of Compton. “Her versatility, athleticism, and speed make her a huge asset to our team. She sets the tone as leadoff hitter and can really put pressure on a defense.”
Sturgill said he hopes for a fun year.
“Our hopes are to improve, be a family, and have fun each day we set foot on the diamond,” said Sturgill. “We are a very young team this year.”
The Lady Cougars have some upperclassmen with ability, said head coach Andrea Werner.
“I have five seniors who all stand out,” said Werner. “Madison Flannagan is a leader who has accepted her role with a smile. Alexa Chandler is a powerhouse hitter. Ashley Steadman is determined to be the best at whatever she does, and Madison Horne works hard to keep her team focused. Faith Campbell’s improvement and hard work show all the qualities of a leader.”
In the circle will be Sydney Snapp, a junior. She will get offensive support from Courtney Willis (cf, Jr.), Jasmine Sheffield (ss, So.) and Chandler (1b, Sr.).
“I hope to have a winning season and pass on the love and passion I have for the game to my players,” said Werner.